81°F
weather icon Clear

Melania on Africa trip: ‘We want to show the world we care’

CAIRO — It took Melania Trump’s first big solo international trip for her to show a different side of herself — a playful, less serious one.

And while she generously dished out warm smiles and happy waves, the first lady also used her four-nation tour of Africa to draw some firmer boundaries between her own views and those of her husband the president.

“I don’t always agree with what he says and I tell him that,” the first lady told reporters Saturday against the backdrop of the Great Sphinx before she headed back to Washington. “But I have my own voice and my own opinions and it’s very important for me that I express what I feel.”

The U.S. first lady hopscotched across Africa without President Donald Trump, commanding a spotlight that was hers alone. In doing her own thing, the very private first lady essentially peeled back the curtain ever so slightly as she wiped away the serious face she wears around Washington.

She demonstrated her independence from her husband in ways large and small — like talking up U.S. foreign aid that he’s tried to slash and ignoring the Fox-only edict that the president imposes on TV screens when he’s aboard Air Force One.

The first lady also did a few things she’s never done before, like wave to journalists as she boarded a U.S. government aircraft for the grueling five-day tour across multiple time zones. With big smiles on her face — sometimes paired with the unfamiliar sound of her laughter — she cuddled babies and bottle-fed young elephants.

And she sashayed and shimmied and danced.

The trip, which had been in the works for months, provided a welcome escape from the ugly political battle in the U.S. capital over Brett Kavanaugh, the president’s Supreme Court nominee. Kavanaugh’s fate had seemed in doubt after he was accused of sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford when they were teenagers.

Kavanaugh has denied the charge and on Saturday was confirmed to a lifetime appointment on America’s highest court.

Even half a world away, Mrs. Trump couldn’t completely ignore the issue. Reporters asked her opinion about the judge, and she said he was “highly qualified” to join the court. As for Ford, Mrs. Trump declined to venture an opinion but said “we need to help all victims, no matter what kind of abuse” they experienced.

The struggle over Kavanaugh resurfaced the roiling debate over the treatment of women who allege sexual misconduct. The first lady has had to grapple with that issue herself, given the multiple women who have accused her husband of sexually inappropriate behavior, claims he says are false.

Always under a microscope, the fashion-conscious first lady caught some criticism for the white pith helmet she wore with her safari ensemble in Kenya. Social media lit up with complaints about her choice of a hat viewed by some as a symbol of Kenya’s colonial past and its one-time domination by the British.

The former model had a terse rejoinder when asked about that: “I wish people would focus on what I do, not what I wear.”

What, then, was her intended message for Africa? “That we care and we want to show the world we care.”

It was a message that was especially welcome given President Trump’s own derogatory comments about a continent that he has yet to visit.

The happier place Mrs. Trump seemed to go to while in Africa surprised some.

“She’s still largely a mystery to the American people because she maintains her largely low profile,” said Katherine Jellison, who studies first ladies at Ohio University.

Joshua Meservey, a senior Africa policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Institute, said there were modest expectations for the first lady’s trip, and she largely met them, avoiding any major gaffes along the way.

“As a public diplomacy tour, it seemed successful,” he said.

The first lady opened the trip in Ghana, where she went to an infant clinic and learned how babies are weighed — in slings that are hooked to a scale. It was at Greater Accra Regional Hospital that she plucked a chubby baby boy from the arms of the woman holding him. She cooed with the baby, who stared back at her with wonder. Photos of the unexpected moment were popular on social media.

She also learned about Africa’s slave past by touring Cape Coast Castle, a former slave holding facility on the Ghanaian coast.

Mrs. Trump spent time inside the cramped dungeon that was used to house male slaves. She also walked through the “Door of No Return,” the portal through which the slaves were shipped to the New World, and gazed out at the Atlantic Ocean as if trying to imagine the harrowing journey.

In Malawi, she went to Chipala Primary School in Lilongwe, where students sang their welcome to the first lady.

She toured indoor and outdoor classrooms, observed lessons and watched some students play soccer with balls she donated. The first lady also witnessed the handover of a batch of textbooks donated by a U.S. international developmental agency.

Mrs. Trump seemed most happy in Kenya, where she visited Nairobi National Park to highlight elephant preservation. Appearing reticent at first, she ultimately engaged them and ended up obviously enjoying the experience of feeding baby elephants milk through a super-sized baby bottle, patting one elephant’s head and stroking another’s ear.

She temporarily lost her footing when an elephant made an unexpected move and got a little too close for her comfort. But she was braced from the rear by a Secret Service agent and resumed playing with the animals, laughing at their antics until it was time to head off on a 90-minute safari.

The first lady seemed more into the swing of things — literally — at events later that day with Kenyan children.

Music accompanied by the beat of drums greeted her arrival at an orphanage in Nairobi, where a group of children dressed in bright yellow T-shirts and patterned bottoms escorted her up a driveway to the building. She gave in to the infectious beat by sashaying as she approached a bank of news cameras, almost as if she was recalling her past life as a fashion model.

She closed her tour in Egypt by touring the pyramids and the Great Sphinx to highlight U.S.-backed preservation efforts there. The U.S. Agency for International Development has been working with the Egyptian government on lowering groundwater levels to prevent additional damage to the landmarks.

Each stop was meant to call attention to the work of USAID, her partner on the trip. But the president twice has proposed slashing the agency’s money.

The first lady’s focus on elephant preservation also clashed with the administration’s decision to allow Americans to resume importation of body parts of African elephants hunted for sport.

“She thinks animals are precious and doesn’t like big-game hunting,” said Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s spokeswoman.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Former Nevada Senate leader Kelvin Atkinson sentenced to prison
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
THE LATEST
Trump plan to slow Western wildfires would clear strips of land

The Trump administration is proposing an ambitious plan to slow Western wildfires by bulldozing, mowing or revegetating large swaths of land along 11,000 miles of terrain in the West.

US’s ‘remain in Mexico’ expanded to dangerous part of border

The U.S. government on Friday expanded its policy requiring asylum seekers to wait outside the country to one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities, where thousands of people are already camped.

British say Iran seizes 2 vessels in Strait of Hormuz

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard says it has seized a British oil tanker that was passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

Dems questioning Mueller will focus on obstruction

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee who will question former special counsel Robert Mueller next week plan to focus on a narrow set of episodes laid out in his report.

Heat wave covering much of US prompts Chicago housing checks

Public housing officials in Chicago were planning wellbeing checks on residents as the heat and humidity are expected to mount to dangerous levels over a substantial portion of the U.S.